An Exploration of Sacred Parenting and Education

Posts Tagged ‘Martin Lings’

From teachers to educators

In Education on January 11, 2012 at 11:10 am

Daniel mentioned in one of his comments, how he left teacher training at a secondary school because after trying to teach Shakespeare he felt he “was not educating the students in any real sense.” I remember attending a series of talks on Sufism and Shakespeare given by Hamza Yusuf and the late Martin Lings at the Shakespeare globe theater in London 2004. Dr Lings (Abu Bakr Siraj Udin), a Shakespearean scholar and Sufi master (considered to be a saint by many) held the view that Shakespeare’s plays contained an esoteric teaching and Shakespeare himself would have delighted in Sufism. Lings, 96 at the time, stood up unaided and talked for a few hours. His luminous presence was noticeable to many including Hamza Yusuf’s mother who too was in the audience. What I took back from those few evenings of lectures was a question. Is what I am doing (as a teacher) education in the original sense of the word? I saw in these scholars knowledge of tradition. A knowledge which they clearly embodied and lived.

Thomas Moore, author of Care of your soul, offers us a glimpse of what the future of education may be. One in which the arts and religion go side by side. Religion, as he explains, not as a belief system but as an exploration of meanings, values and a spiritual vision. This may not simply be about designing a new curriculum to be taught or new pedagogy to be introduced to make lessons more engaging. Teachers would have to be educated differently.

The arts are what humanise us and help us see our soul… Teachers would have to be educated very differently therefore. They would have to be educated in their person. They would have to be educated to develop into deeper, richer, more visionary people. We’re interested in a person who is going to teach and not someone who has a bag of tools.” Thomas Moore

How are such educators to be produced? This isn’t a new question. Allama Mohammed Iqbal (1877-1938) too was interested in educated reform for the Muslims of India and posed the same question for the Ulema (religious scholars) of his time. In a long letter to Aftab Khan, Chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University, who sought his advice on introducing a new faculty of Islamic studies, who wrote:

“Our first and foremost object should be to create Ulema of proper qualities who could fulfill the spiritual needs of the community. Please note that along with the change in the outlook of the people their spiritual requirements also undergo a change. the change in the status of the individual, his freedom of thought and expression, and the unimaginable advancement made by the physical science, have completely revolutionised modern life. As a result, the kind of ilm-i-Kalam and the theological understanding which was considered sufficient to satisfy the heart of a Muslim of the Middle Ages, does not satisfy him any more. This is not being stated with the intention to injure the spirit of religion. But in order to re-discover the depths of creative and original thinking (Ijtihad), and the emphasize that it is essential to reconstruct our religious thought.”

In a long ceonversation with his Pir (Guide) Rumi, Iqbal asks

“A stream of blood flows from the seeing eye because at the hands of modern knowledge Religion is tattered and torn. How can this be remedied?

In return Sage Rumi replies:”Knowledge used exclusively for material gains bites you like a serpent. But as a purifier of the inner self, it becomes your best friend’.

Iqbal, in his letter to Aftab Khan, adds “What is needed today is to apply ones mind in a new direction and to exert for the construction of a new theology and a new ‘ilm-i-kalam’… Your ultimate objective should be to gradually bring forward a group of such Ulema who are themselves capable of independent and creative thinking”.

In looking around me, seeing the challenges religion as presented in mosques (and churches) faces in the west, with the rise of new age spirituality which seems to address the new ‘spiritual requirements’ of people of the modern age more directly then religion as a belief system does- I do wonder to what extent religion devoid of inner meaning can serve the needs of those living in the modern times where the need for nourishing the soul is greater or how effectively they can prepare our youth for the challenges of tomorrow? In working with teenagers I have often seen a rise in ‘religiosity’ as a movement to gaining a stable identity, especially amongst first/second/third generation immigrants at a time when they are faced with questions presented by the media such as are you British or Muslim? Such religiosity is in my experience superficial and doesn’t reach or transform the soul. In terms of the Islamic tradition, I think Iqbal would have been delighted to see the Baraka Institute (http://www.barakainstitute.org/) and the vision of Islamic spirituality it presents for the future. As to how we produce educators who are visionaries and people of depth to transform our education system is one to explore. I do feel spiritual community has a big role to play in the maturing process. What do you think?